NASA Plans to Save Earth by Knocking Asteroid Off Its Orbit

Aiming to show how to protect Earth from a future killer asteroid strike, NASA plans to crash a refrigerator-sized spacecraft at a speed about nine times faster than a bullet into a space rock, forcing it to change its orbit.

The target for the first-ever mission to demonstrate an asteroid deflection technique for planetary defence – the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) – is an asteroid that will have a distant approach to Earth in October 2022, and then again in 2024, NASA said.

“DART would be NASA’s first mission to demonstrate what’s known as the kinetic impactor technique — striking the asteroid to shift its orbit – to defend against a potential future asteroid impact,” said Lindley Johnson, planetary defence officer at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

The asteroid is called Didymos – Greek for “twin” – because it is an asteroid binary system that consists of two bodies – Didymos A, about 780 metres in size, and a smaller asteroid orbiting it called Didymos B, about 160 metres in size.

DART, scheduled for launch in 2020, would impact only the smaller of the two bodies, Didymos B.

The Didymos system has been closely studied since 2003. The primary body is a rocky S-type object, with composition similar to that of many asteroids.

The composition of its small companion, Didymos B, is unknown, but the size is typical of asteroids that could potentially create regional effects should they impact Earth.

“A binary asteroid is the perfect natural laboratory for this test,” said Tom Statler, programme scientist for DART at NASA Headquarters.

NASA Plans to Save Earth by Knocking Asteroid Off Its Orbit“The fact that Didymos B is in orbit around Didymos A makes it easier to see the results of the impact, and ensures that the experiment doesn’t change the orbit of the pair around the sun,” Statler added.

After launch, DART would fly to Didymos, and use an on-board autonomous targeting system to aim itself at Didymos B.

Then the spacecraft would strike the smaller body at a speed about nine times faster than a bullet, approximately six kilometres per second.

Earth-based observatories would be able to see the impact and the resulting change in the orbit of Didymos B around Didymos A, allowing scientists to better determine the capabilities of kinetic impact as an asteroid mitigation strategy.

The kinetic impact technique works by changing the speed of a threatening asteroid by a small fraction of its total velocity, but by doing it well before the predicted impact so that this small nudge will add up over time to a big shift of the asteroid’s path away from Earth.

“DART is a critical step in demonstrating we can protect our planet from a future asteroid impact,” saiid Andy Cheng of The Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, the DART investigation co-lead.

Hyperloop One Completes First Successful Full-Systems Test

US startup Hyperloop One on Wednesday announced the first successful full-systems test of its near-supersonic rail transit system.

The test took place in May at the company’s development track in the Nevada desert near Las Vegas, and involved a vehicle coasting above tracks for slightly more than five seconds using magnetic levitation, according to the startup.

The test vehicle accelerated to a speed of 70 miles (112 kilometers) per hour during the test, and the company’s next goal is to ramp the speed to 250 mph (400 kph), Hyperloop One said in a release.

“Hyperloop One has accomplished what no one has done before by successfully testing the first full scale Hyperloop system,” said startup co-founder and executive chairman Shervin Pishevar.

“By achieving full vacuum, we essentially invented our own sky in a tube, as if you’re flying at 200,000 feet (60,000 meters) in the air.”

Hyperloop One had originally promised a full-scale demonstration by the end of 2016, after a successful test of the propulsion system.

Systems tested in May included the motor, vacuum pumping, magnetic levitation, and electromagnetic braking, according to the company.

Hyperloop One also announced on Wednesday that it has built a prototype pod designed to carry people or cargo through the systems low-pressure tubes.

Hyperloop One early this year disclosed a list of locations around the world vying to put near-supersonic rail transit system to the test.

Viable submissions had to be condoned by government agencies that would likely be involved in regulating and, ideally, funding the futuristic rail.

Hyperloop One Completes First Successful Full-Systems TestHyperloop One wants to get three systems underway, chief executive Rob Lloyd told AFP at the time.

Hyperloop One, which has raised more than $160 million, was set on an idea laid out by billionaire Elon Musk, the entrepreneur behind electric car company Tesla and private space exploration endeavor SpaceX.

Pods would rocket along rails through reduced-pressure tubes at speeds of 1,200 kilometers (750 miles) per hour.

Hyperloop One says the system offers better safety than passenger jets, lower build and maintenance costs than high-speed trains, and energy usage, per person, that is similar to a bicycle.

Port colossus DP World Group of Dubai last year invested in the concept, joining backers including French national rail company SNCF, US industrial conglomerate General Electric and Russian state fund RDIF.

After Visa Delays, Afghan Girls Robotics Team Reaches US for Competition

With two words – “Team Afghanistan” – the crowd assembled in the stands at DAR Constitution Hall erupted into a deafening roar Sunday as the teen-aged girls made their way onto a sprawling stage, waving their country’s flag and donning head scarves in matching colors.Their triumphant entrance on the stage Sunday at the FIRST Global Robotics Challenge marked the end of a long and uncertain journey to the US. As of last week, their dream of traveling to what has been billed as the “Olympics of Robotics” had been shot down when their visas were denied, despite two grueling trips from their home in Herat to Kabul for interviews with the US State Department.

But after their plight made international headlines, President Trump intervened at the last minute to grant the girls passage to the US, and they arrived Saturday.

Standing in the busy hallway of Constitution Hall, while her teammates tinkered with the robot nearby, Fatemah Qaderyu said she was elated to finally make it here from her hometown in Herat, in western Afghanistan. The 14-year-old wants to study computer science when she gets older.”We feel really good that we can show our talents here,” said Fatemah. She said she hopes to show the world what girls like her are capable of: “Afghanistan is not just a place of war. Afghan girls can build robots and compete in global competitions.”

The three-day competition draws teams from 157 countries – and some multinational teams representing continents. One group – Team Hope – is composed of refugees. FIRST has long hosted competitions in the US, but this is the first year it is hosting an international competition. The team representing the US is composed of three girls, who marched into the auditorium for the parade of nations to the Woody Guthrie song “This Land is Your Land.”

[These girls have built robots since they were toddlers. Now they’re competing on a world stage.]

After Visa Delays, Afghan Girls Robotics Team Reaches US for CompetitionThe international nature of the competition came with complications. Besides the girls from Afghanistan, the team from Gambia also had issues with their visas, according to the Associated Press, before their applications were also ultimately approved. Because of sanctions, Global FIRST was unable to ship a robotics kit to Iran, where a group of teenagers was awaiting the parts to build a robot.

That might have spelled the end of the team’s shot of going to the world championships. But the organization introduced them to a group of teen-aged robotics enthusiasts at Marshall High in Fairfax County, Va. calling themselves Team Gryphon. The team in Iran sketched out blueprints on the computer and sent the designs to their counterparts across the ocean, and then corresponded over Skype.

Sunday, the team flew the Iranian flag at their station next to the flag of Team Gryphon – a black flag with a purple silhouette of the gryhpon – as a sign of their unlikely partnership. For Mohammadreza Karami, the team’s mentor, it was an inspiring example of cooperation.

“It’s possible to solve all of the world’s problems if we put aside our politics and focus on peace,” Karami said.

Kirsten Singer, a 16-year-old rising junior at Marshall High, said she wanted to didn’t want the team to be locked out of the competition just because of the sanctions.

“Everybody should be able to compete . . . and to learn and to use that experience for other aspects of their life,” Singer said.

Twitter May Aid Response in Real Time, Study Claims

Twitter and other social media platforms can help track natural disasters in real time and alert first responders of the areas that need urgent aid, scientists say.

With over 500 million tweets sent every single day, new research is investigating innovative ways to use that data to help communities respond during unexpected catastrophes.

While local governments and relief organisations can measure a community’s ability to respond to a disaster or measuring its impacts after, they can not monitor the effects in real time.

Researchers from the Pennsylvania State University in the US demonstrated the ability of social media to alert first responders.

They compared tweets sent out during Hurricane Sandy, one of the deadliest hurricanes to ever hit the US, and the corresponding power outage information provided after the incident by utility companies in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.

By comparing the information drawn from the power grid and the human chatter from over 10 million relevant posts on Twitter, the team was able to create a system for event detection.

Twitter May Aid Response in Real Time, Study ClaimsThen, by isolating tweets with the terms ‘power,’ ‘outage,’ ‘electri,’ and ‘utility,’ the posts were organised by hour and compared to the outage reports in the same timeframe.

The two data sets were found to have a moderate-to-strong correlation, and the team believes it is possible that Twitter was able to report power outages more quickly.

Previous academic research in the domain has primarily been before and after disastrous events.

“We were able to show these two data points actually relate to one another,” said Nick Lalone, doctoral student and the principal investigator of the study published in the journal Sustainable and Resilient Infrastructure.

“The goal of this research is to demonstrate that if the data stream changes, you can see what just happened. It would result in a real-time monitoring system,” said Lalone.

Elon Musk, Other AI Experts Warn the UN About Killer Robots

More than 100 robotics and artificial intelligence leaders including billionaire Elon Musk are urging the United Nations to take action against the dangers of autonomous weapons, known as “killer robots.”

“Lethal autonomous weapons threaten to become the third revolution in warfare,” warned the letter signed by 116 tech luminaries, including Musk, the chief of Tesla, and Mustafa Suleyman, cofounder of Google’s DeepMind.

“Once developed, they will permit armed conflict to be fought at a scale greater than ever, and at times scales faster than humans can comprehend,” the letter read.

“These can be weapons of terror, weapons that despots and terrorists use against innocent populations, and weapons hacked to behave in undesirable ways.”

Elon Musk, Other AI Experts Warn the UN About Killer RobotsThey added: “We do not have long to act. Once this Pandora’s box is opened, it will be hard to close.”

A UN group focused on these types of weapons was set to meet Monday, but it was canceled and postponed until November, according to the international body’s website.

In 2015, thousands of researchers and personalities launched an appeal to ban “autonomous weapons.”

Both Musk and well-known British astrophysicist Stephen Hawking regularly warn of the “dangers” of artificial intelligence, citing in particular “robot killers.”

Microsoft’s Project Brainwave Platform for Real-Time AI Launched

Software giant Microsoft has announced its Project Brainwave deep learning acceleration platform for real-time artificial intelligence (AI).

With the help of ultra-low latency, the system processes requests as fast as it receives them.

“Real-time AI is becoming increasingly important as cloud infrastructures process live data streams, whether they be search queries, videos, sensor streams, or interactions with users,” said Doug Burger, an engineer at Microsoft, in a blog post late on Tuesday.

The ‘Project Brainwave’ uses the massive field-programmable gate array (FPGA) infrastructure that Microsoft has been deploying over the past few years.

“By attaching high-performance FPGAs directly to our datacentre network, we can serve DNNs as hardware microservices, where a DNN can be mapped to a pool of remote FPGAs and called by a server with no software in the loop,” Burger said.

He added that the system architecture reduces latency, since the CPU does not need to process incoming requests, and allows very high throughput, with the FPGA processing requests as fast as the network can stream them.

Microsoft's Project Brainwave Platform for Real-Time AI LaunchedThe system has been architected to yield high actual performance across a wide range of complex models, with batch-free execution.

Microsoft claimed that the system, designed for real-time AI, can handle complex, memory-intensive models such as Long Short Term Memories (LSTM), without using batching to juice throughput.

“Project Brainwave achieves unprecedented levels of demonstrated real-time AI performance on extremely challenging models. As we tune the system over the next few quarters, we expect significant further performance improvements,” Burger noted.

Microsoft is also planning to bring the real-time AI system to users in Azure.

“With the ‘Project Brainwave’ system incorporated at scale and available to our customers, Microsoft Azure will have industry-leading capabilities for real-time AI,” Burger noted.

Germany’s Rules Says Self-Driving Cars Can’t Base Decision on Age

Protecting people rather than property or animals will be the priority under pioneering new German legal guidelines for the operation of driverless cars, the transport ministry said on Wednesday.

Germany is home to some of the world’s largest car companies, including Volkswagen, Daimler and BMW, all of which are investing heavily in self-driving technology.

German regulators have been working on rules for how such vehicles should be programmed to deal with a dilemma, such as choosing between hitting a cyclist or accelerating beyond legal speeds to avoid an accident.

Under new ethical guidelines – drawn up by a government-appointed committee comprising experts in ethics, law and technology – the software that controls such cars must be programmed to avoid injury or death of people at all cost.

That means that when an accident is unavoidable, the software must choose whichever action will hurt people the least, even if that means destroying property or hitting animals in the road, a transport ministry statement showed.

Germany's Rules Says Self-Driving Cars Can't Base Decision on AgeThe software may not decide on its course of action based on the age, sex or physical condition of any people involved.

“The interactions of humans and machines is throwing up new ethical questions in the age of digitalisation and self-learning systems,” German Transport Minister Alexander Dobrindt said in a a statement.

“The ministry’s ethics commission has pioneered the cause and drawn up the world’s first set of guidelines for automated driving,” he added.

Germany earlier this year passed legislation under which a driver must be sitting behind the wheel at all times ready to take back control if prompted to do so by the autonomous vehicle, clearing the way for the development and testing of self-driving cars.

Canon EOS 6D Mark II Launched in India, Price Starts at Rs. 1,32,995

Canon unveiled the EOS 6D Mark II late last month and on Monday, the company launched it in India. The Canon 6D Mark II will go on sale this month at a starting price of Rs. 1,32,995 for the just the body, or you could pick it up with the EF 24-70mm f/4L IS USM lens bundle at Rs. 1,84,995, or a EF 24-105mm f/4L IS II USM lens bundle at Rs. 2,02,995. All prices are inclusive of all taxes.

The Canon EOS 6D Mark II is designed for enthusiast-level photographers thanks to its full-frame sensor and brand new 26.3-megapixel CMOS sensor. Other features include a 45-point, cross-type autofocus system with Dual Pixel autofocus for live mode. The camera also uses the new DIGIC 7 image processor and boasts of an ISO 100-40000 range. It has an articulated, 3-inch touchscreen panel, continuous shooting of up to 6.5fps, built-in Wi-Fi, NFC, Bluetooth and is dust and water resistant. Sadly, video recording still maxes out only at 1080p at 60fps, as there’s no 4K support.

Canon EOS 6D Mark II Launched in India, Price Starts at Rs. 1,32,995The Canon 6D Mark II boasts of a 7,560 pixel RGB plus IR metering sensor and a colour detection autofocus that is said to provide consistent and accurate exposure in various lighting conditions. For instance, it’s supposed to automatically detect skin tones and give priority to human subjects in the frame. It also features lens aberration correction that helps the camera automatically detect which lens is paired with the body and apply the right level of correction for distortion and diffraction when shooting.

Commenting on the launch, Mr. Eddie Udagawa, Vice President of Consumer Imaging and Information Centre, Canon India said, “The EOS 6D Mark II is a versatile full frame camera that reflects the “Sense of Genius”, striking a perfect balance between compact design and superior performance offering an excellent value to the photo enthusiasts and professionals. The EOS 6D Mark II is a camera that will excel in a vast variety of genres. With a full frame sensor, Dual Pixel CMOS AF and vari-angle touch panel, the EOS 6D Mark II, will appeal to both still and video audiences allowing them to experience the world of full-frame imaging in new and interesting ways.”

Facebook Messenger Plagued With Malicious Links Spreading Malware: Kaspersky

The latest social chat service to become a victim of malicious malware and adware links is Facebook Messenger. According to Kaspersky Labs, cybercriminals are sending malicious links to Facebook Messenger users, helping track browser activity and display targeted advertisements – and thereby generating revenue.

Interestingly, the malicious link arrives through one of your friends account on Messenger to fake legitimacy. The message reads “David Video” and then is followed up with a bit.ly link. Clicking on the link will take you to a Google Docs page having a screenshot photo of that Facebook friend, and it is made to look like a playable movie.

When you try to click on the fake playable movie, the malware redirects you to a set of websites that are different based on the browser you use. “By doing this, it basically moves your browser through a set of websites and, using tracking cookies, monitors your activity, displays certain ads for you and even, in some cases, social engineers you to click on links,” said David Jacoby, senior security researcher in the global research and analysis team at Kaspersky Lab..

Facebook Messenger Plagued With Malicious Links Spreading Malware: KasperskyFor example, Firefox and OSX Safari browsers are redirected to a website displaying a fake Flash Update notice, and then offered a Windows executable and a OSX executable respectively, both of which are flagged as adware. Google Chrome website redirects you to a website which mimics the layout of YouTube, even including the YouTube logo. It then shows a fake error tricking you to download a malicious Google Chrome extension from the Google Web Store.

The biggest play here is that it is made to be sent by one of your friends on Facebook, increasing chances of you clicking on it. We advise you to not click on any unknown links, before rechecking for its legitimacy with the friend who sent it. Avoid clicking on random shortened links as much as possible on Facebook Messenger, even if they are sent from friends. “The people behind this are most likely making a lot of money in ads and getting access to a lot of Facebook accounts,” said Jacoby. The cybercriminals behind these attacks are unknown at the moment.

ZDNet got in touch with Facebook to ask if they were aware about the matter. A spokesperson for Facebook told the publication, “We maintain a number of automated systems to help stop harmful links and files from appearing on Facebook. If we suspect your computer is infected with malware, we will provide you with a free antivirus scan from our trusted partners. We share tips on how to stay secure and links to these scanners on facebook.com/help.”

Disney’s Star Wars Campaign Uses Augmented Reality to Hype Film

Disney is harnessing all of its media might to make the next Star Wars movie the biggest film of the year, employing augmented reality and social media in a global campaign to promote “The Last Jedi” and related merchandise.

Starting September 1, which Disney again dubs Force Friday, fans of the sci-fi films can use smartphones to take part in an augmented-reality treasure hunt, like the Pokemon Go craze that gripped video-game fans last year. The worldwide Find the Force hunt will take place over three days, starting in Sydney, and will involve more than 20,000 stores in 30 countries, Disney said in a statement Thursday.

Disney’s Star Wars movies – it’s released two since buying Lucasfilm for $4 billion (roughly Rs. 25,622 crores) in 2012 – rank among the biggest ever, and the Burbank, California-based studio plans a total of at least six. Key to the company’s success has been its ability to draw in a new generation of fans, especially now with US box-office sales in decline. The movie opens December 15.

As part of the campaign, Disney has created a smartphone app that’s activated by special logos that appear on cut-out figures in stores. Fans who turn up to buy action figures or drones from the new lineup of products can use the devices to discover characters like the alien birds called Porgs, pose with them and share the images on social media. Fans who post on social media can win prizes, like tickets to the movie’s premiere.

“This campaign is on a bigger scale than the first Force Friday, both in terms of geographic scope and the number of retailers,” Paul Southern, a senior vice president at Disney’s Lucasfilm, said in an interview.

At its D23 fan event in July, Disney unveiled a smartphone-based augmented-reality headset, designed with Lenovo Group Ltd. It lets fans play fantasy games from the original Star Wars trilogy, like Holochess. Characters appear against the backdrop of whatever the smartphone camera is pointed at, making them seem real. Disney’s augmented-reality products coincide with a broader tech-industry push in the field in coming months, including Apple’s launch of a new iPhone operating system.

Disney's Star Wars Campaign Uses Augmented Reality to Hype FilmThe first Force Friday promotion in 2015, tied to The Force Awakens, sparked a sevenfold increase in online sales of Star Wars toys for the month of September. The studio drummed up excitement for new action figures and toys with a global unwrapping of Star Wars merchandise on YouTube and coverage on ABC’s Good Morning America. The movie went on to become the top-grossing US movie ever.

While toy sales soared, Disney faced a backlash for failing to adequately include Rey, the film’s female lead character, in action-figure sets and themed games such as Monopoly. Disney underestimated demand, and the shortage was compounded by a limited rollout of new merchandise designed to avoid revealing too much about the new Star Wars hero.

This time around, Rey features centrally in the promotions, and the company is working hard to avoid shortages.

“This film is focused on Rey and that is reflected on the consumer product side,” Southern said. “She is front and center.”

In “The Last Jedi,” Daisy Ridley reprises the role of Rey, rejoined by John Boyega as Finn, Adam Driver as the villain Kylo Ren and Oscar Isaac as Poe Dameron. Mark Hamill returns as Luke Skywalker. The film is expected to open with North American weekend sales of $230 million and go on to generate $1.7 billion to $2 billion (roughly Rs. 10,889 crores – Rs. 12,810 crores) globally, according to Shawn Robbins, chief analyst at BoxOfficePro.com.

“The Last Jedi” is the third film Disney has made from the George Lucas action series. The first, “The Force Awakens,” generated $936.7 million (roughly Rs. 5,999 crores) in the US and Canada, unseating “Avatar” as the domestic record holder, and brought in more than $2 billion (roughly Rs. 12,811 crores) worldwide, according to Box Office Mojo.

“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” was the first of potentially three standalone stories. Released in December 2016, it generated a more modest $1.06 billion (roughly Rs. 6,789 crores) worldwide and was the No. 2 release of the year.